A policy-driven White House
One further comment on the various Rahm Emanuel stories floating around town lately: They're notable in that they're about Emanuel's performance, rather than schisms in the White House. The stories are arguing that Barack Obama should be listening more to Rahm Emanuel, but they're not saying that he's instead listening to David Axelrod, or Valerie Jarrett, or Robert Gibbs.
In fact, what appears to be happening is that Barack Obama is listening to his policy people. He didn't scale back the health-care reform bill because they convinced him that the different pieces didn't work on their own. He's trying to close Guantanamo because a lot of people who work on this stuff think we should close Guantanamo. That's the thing about electing a smart technocrat as president: He's swayed by smart, technocratic arguments. The political people are being used to help sell and shepherd the policy, and to figure out how much of the policy can pass Congress, but they seem to be losing the major arguments over what that policy should be.
The obvious counterargument here is the stimulus debate, but as Michael Tomasky has noted, the limits on the size of the stimulus appears to have come from the House of Representatives (and then, later in the process, from the Senate). Maybe Rahm and the White House didn't do enough to break through those limits, but they also thought the recession would be a lot milder than it actually was, and so didn't act with quite the urgency that better information might have furnished.
But either way, I'd say that the White House's agenda has been a lot closer to what its policy experts advised than what its political team counseled. And that's a good thing.
Photo credit: By Pete Souza/White House Photo
March 2, 2010; 11:08 AM ET
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